Sing For Your Dinner In Singapore (Because You Don’t Have Enough Money)

DSCF2300 (Copy)Stepping from the icy air conditioned Terminal at Singapore’s Changi airport, the heat and humidity sucker punches you in the face. Like walking through hot soup, even a short walk will leave your shirt clinging to your body. Combine that with a heavy backpack and you will have an uncomfortable time. Fortunately it is a breeze to get an air conditioned minibus to your hotel/hostel, and so begins the life of hopping from air con to air con wherever possible. Continue reading

Hong Kong. All Of It.

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The final insult of China was at the border. In a final, desperate attempt to extract that last bit of cash from you, there is a bus that you have to take and of course this costs money. I throw my Yuan at the ticket counter and I have to make a conscious effort not to be bitter about this petty money grabbing that has been a feature of China since I arrived in Beijing all that time ago. Continue reading

Follow The Money To Yangshuo

DSCF2094 (Copy)On the back of any nation’s currency is a statement that says “this is your country! Isn’t it beautiful! Isn’t your supreme leader/ex-head of state/psychotic dictator a wonderful man?” On the back of Chairman Mao’s head on the 20 Yuan note is a lithograph of the most famously beautiful scenery in China and has been the inspiration for countless artists, poets, writers and film makers for years. Continue reading

Leaping Tiger, Snapping Tourists: On The Fringes Of Tibet

DSCF1807 (Copy)Chinese tourists just love Lijiang. When I arrived you couldn’t move for them and the winding alleyways and narrow lanes clogged with humanity as a result, which is a great shame and a perfect example of the behemoth that is the burgeoning middle class of China. It has been said that more than 50% of China’s entire population is middle class, and they want a holiday! The small city receives 5 million domestic tourists every year, all of them convening in the old town. With me. Continue reading

Panda Eyes in Chengdu

DSCF1695 (Copy)You hear tales of the sleeper trains in China. Jam packed with noisy noodle slurping locals stealing your seat, or in this case, bed. Smoking in the corridors. Spitting in the corridors… Happily this was untrue for me, and the night passed in a quiet, gently rocking style as the train trundled at a leisurely 60 mph to its final destination at Chengdu at a very sensible time of 10am. Cheaper than a hotel! Continue reading

Army In Darkness: Xian And The Terracotta Warriors

DSCF1584 (Copy)With smog so thick in Beijing you could spoon it over yoghurt, I was looking forward to getting out to clearer climes. How naive. Getting the train to the ancient walled city of Xian from Beijing allows you to experience the narrow end of China’s explosive development and how it is embracing technology as quickly as possible. The bullet train is every bit as sleek and clean as its Japanese cousin and is by far the simplest way to get to the central western city of a thousand stone soldiers. Five hours in a comfortable clean train or thirteen hours in a rickety old sleeper berth. It’s not really a choice is it? Continue reading

Five Days In Beijing (Is Not Enough)

DSCF1208 (Copy)The crossing in to China was a painless affair, assisted with beer purchased at the border from the convenient supermarket. A quick look at the shelves and it was clear we were no longer in Kansas. Vacuum packed pickled pig trotter anyone? And that was one of the few items that were identifiable. Many more nondescript but-almost-certainly-some-kind-of-offal lined the shop, and the fruit juices became all the more esoteric. Beer, thankfully, was easy to spot and with nary a crazy fruit or animal organ to be found in the bottle, it was about all I needed to take me to Beijing. Continue reading

Marauding Through Mongolia

DSCF1147 (Copy)With a happy quirk that only Russian bureaucrats can possibly make sense of, I boarded the train to Mongolia to be greeted by three other westerners. It seemed that as the only foreigners on board we were to be quarantined to our own carriage, in what turned out to be the nicest carriage on the train. The décor was bright and mostly new; the air was clear and there was no noise at all. Upon exploring the rest of the train, it was clear that we were given better than the rest with the other carriages being a melange of 70s brown veneer walls, smoky corridors and crowded compartments. What a shame. Continue reading

Russian Ark to Gorky Park

DSCF0913 (Copy)Less an iron curtain and more of a veil these days, nonetheless there are distinct differences to the rest of Europe once you land in what once called itself the USSR (or CCCP if you are being pedantic). Not least of these is the Soviet levels of service that greet you in the (greying, crumbling) airport at St Petersburg. “Hey. You. Look at camera”. I look at the camera. She raps impatiently on the glass to my right. Am I supposed to not look at the camera now? Ah, it seems I am to look at her so she can ascertain I am who I say I am according to my passport photo. I pass muster. I get the stamp, the sound of which echoes around the terminal. “NEXT!” Service with a smile is a phenomenon that did not make it in to the approved government processes once Glasnost took effect. Continue reading